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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Secretary Of State Condos: Vermont Needs An Independent Ethics Commission

Bob Kinzel
Secretary of State Jim Condos is pushing for state lawmakers to enact new ethics legislation and create an independent ethics commission.

When it comes to government ethics, Vermont is a national outlier. The state is one of just a handful that don't have any sort of statewide ethics commission to watchdog public officials, nor does it require state lawmakers to reveal anything at all about their personal finances in order to disclose possible conflicts of interest.

Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos wants to change all of that. He's pushing for state lawmakers to enact new ethics legislation and create an independent ethics commission.

On why Vermont, not known for its corruption, needs an ethics commission

"In my role as secretary of state, we handle a lot of municipal phone calls. And almost weekly, we get a call from a Vermonter who has an issue with a select board or planning commission or development review board or whatever local board might be that they're involved with, and they raise the question of whether there was a conflict of interest or an ethics violation. And we have to inform them that unless their town has approved a conflict of interest ordinance, then they really don't have any other recourse, because state law does not have any statements about conflicts of interest, except to enable cities and towns to develop a municipality.

"They could [call the Attorney General's office], and that's what we advice them to do ... But we have no authority at our office, and I think that leaves people frustrated sometimes." 

On the national context

"This idea of of an ethics commission is not a new one. I mean, something like 47 states have an ethics commission; we're the only one in the Northeast that doesn't have one. And I think the time has come that we need something that allows the public to have access to a way of complaining."

On what the Vermont Legislature should do

"I think what they need to do is have a clear law on what is considered ethics, what are conflicts of interest, and what financial disclosure pieces are necessary and informative for the public." 

"Something like 47 states have an ethics commission. We're the only one in the Northeast that doesn't have one ... We need something that allows the public to have access to a way of complaining." - Secretary of State Jim Condos

"By and large, I would say that Vermonters are well served by their dedicated public servants [who] really are trying to do the right thing by their constituents. But I do think that it's kind of the nibbling at the edges, where something may not be considered necessarily corrupt, but it could raise a question of conflict of interest, or whatever, there just is no place to go in government right now. And personally I feel that it should be an independent, impartial ethics commission that would provide its input and its recommendations."

On why the time is now

"They've had the opportunity to police themselves, but they haven't done it. I think it's probably the right time to raise the issue, to have the discussion. Again, this is a discussion. Nothing can happen unless the Legislature puts it into play, and I think that the discussion should be had, whether it's over the summer or in the next legislative session."

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
Alex was a reporter and host of VPR's local All Things Considered. He was also the co-host and co-creator of the VPR program Brave Little State.
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